Conestoga news

May 15, 2023 7:57 AM

Conestoga researchers explore uses of extended reality training

Earlier this year, researchers from the Conestoga Food Research and Innovation Lab (CFRIL) and the Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab (VARLab) shared results from a research project developed through funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

Conestoga College - CFRIL and VG Meats.jpeg
Researchers from the Conestoga Food Research and Innovation Lab and the Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab helped guests work through a training module that focused on the practice of wet sanitation.

The project explored the potential benefits of using extended reality training for employees in provincially registered meat processing facilities in Ontario. With support from industry partner VG Meats, training modules were created to enhance comprehension and retention of critical plant processes including sanitation, good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and handwashing.

“One of the challenges in creating effective training material, particularly when it comes to food safety, is achieving the right balance between thoroughness and simplicity,” explained Sebastian Chalupa-Krebzdak of VG Meats. “Effective training material must bear the vast and comprehensive contents of our modern food safety systems; however, it must also be equitable when being communicated to those who put those contents into place.”

According to the research team, employers face significant compliance and contamination risks in meat processing plants, and many concepts driven by Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are delivered in a format that does not allow employees to develop their connection to the values and outcomes behind the SOPs.

Digital learning simulations, such as extended reality, represent interactive and intuitive ways to learn complex procedures and understand them through immersive levels of rehearsal. These solutions meet the challenges by allowing trainees to progressively explore, learn and rehearse the vital processes that support safe practices.

During the presentation, Conestoga’s Lisa Trimble, manager, DLX Pedagogy and Process Quality, explained that learning needs to be meaningful and relevant and noted that many employees in this industry may be newcomers who have language barriers and gaps in literacy which could be problematic in food safety and compliance where there isn’t room for mistakes.

“When I heard about this project to make training more equitable by creating a self-guided extended reality simulation, I was honoured to be able to contribute,” added Chalupa-Krebzdak. “Being able to offer employees an interactive simulation that teaches them to maintain GMPs and sanitary practices makes it much easier to provide a comprehensive lesson on our food safety practices that they can complete at their own pace … I believe employees are also noticing that effort was put into making their training more enjoyable and retainable and reacting positively towards that.”

Working with the VARLab, the Conestoga team developed a series of training modules that involved interactive games that used accessible language. The modules were presented to 20 employees at VG Meats and the research team said the response was overwhelmingly positive, with participants wanting to see more training presented this way.

During the presentation, which was held at the college’s Bloom Restaurant at the Waterloo campus, guests were able to work through a training module that focused on teaching employees about the practice of wet sanitation. The purpose of the module is for learners to become more familiar with principles of wet sanitation, including when to do it, how to do it correctly.

“Adults are so hungry for new ways of learning,” added Trimble. “We have all been in so many classrooms with so much top-down teacher-led education that we’re looking for new ways of trying things. The changes that are happening in this area are going to be rapid and radical and it’s going to look like a completely different experience for learners in this field in the next few years. This is just the very, very beginning of it.”

Conestoga Food Research and Innovation Lab

Conestoga’s Food Research and Innovation Lab meets the needs of industry through education, training, research and technical expertise. The lab’s advanced facilities have proven essential in advancing solutions for small, medium and large businesses in the food and culinary sector by providing innovative solutions and support throughout the product development cycle that include formula development, shelf-life studies, packaging testing, and scale-up using pilot plant equipment. 

Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab

The Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab (VARLab) at Conestoga builds digital learning simulations enabling learners to access immersive learning content, remotely and on-demand, bridging the gap between campus resources and individual learning. The VARLab is a full-stack development shop that builds custom solutions and uses off-the-shelf tools for rapid development.